Fixing Vista Mouse and Audio Nits

Now that my production system has been stable for nearly two weeks, I’m finally getting around to dealing with other aspects of its behavior that aren’t quite right. This morning, I resolved to address two issues that have been vexing me lately: an occasional but frequent case of “cursor freeze” from my mouse, and regular but brief stuttering or freeze in audio playback through Windows Media Player 11 or Windows Media Center. Let’s tackle these in their order of occurrence here.

Thawing Cursor Freeze

Since I finally fixed my recent BSOD causes, primarily stemming from Nvidia graphics driver issues (repaired with 177.83, and improved with the 177.92 beta) and conflicts among various security software components (primarily AVG Anti-virus 8.0 and Spyware Doctor 6.0), I’ve been growing increasingly irritated that my mouse cursor would freeze every now and then, for anywhere from a fraction of a second to as many as 3 or 4 seconds. Darn, but it’s hard to get work done in a GUI environment when the cursor won’t move, nor the mouse respond!

At first, I thought it might be an issue with my Logitech mouse driver. I’m the fortunate beneficiary of the excellent MX1100 cordless mouse the company graciously sent me to replace my equally great GX7 after the left button started double-clicking all the time, even when I only wanted to click once. But after checking to make sure that my installed version (4.60.122) was both current and correct, I started to wonder if it might not be something else.

A little Googling on “Vista cursor freeze” turned up lots of other users with similar problems, especially on systems with cordless mice installed. Because as many Microsoft, Kensington, and other cordless users were voicing the same issue, as well as Logitech owners, this convinced me a solution would not emerge from replacing or twiddling with the Logitech drivers.

The fix proved to be easy but a little vexing. Turns out that there is some kind of odd interaction between the fancy animated cursors that belong to the Aero desktop theme in Vista by default, and the frequent polling behavior that cordless mice must use to update cursor position and detect mouse button actions.

You’d think that as proud as MS is of the whole Aero ethos, they’d figure out some way to make all its parts compatible with wireless pointing devices. The widely published fix, however, is to switch away from the Aero cursors to something else in the Mouse properties item in Control Panel. Click Control Panel, Mouse, the select the Pointers tab, and pick any Scheme other than one of the Windows Aero offerings. Most folks pick the “Windows Animated (system scheme)” entry, but I picked “Windows Standard (large)” possibly out of nostalgia for Windows 98. Works, though.

Change the scheme to anything else

It really doesn’t matter which scheme you select, as long as it’s not some Aero variation.

If you encounter something similar it may work for you. It worked for me!

Smoothing Audio Stutter

As somebody who’s been messing with Media Center since 2004, I’ve had to troubleshoot stuttering audio many, many times. Possible causes in Vista are even more legion than in XP, so I list them in order of likelihood, with brief explanations of possible fixes.

  1. Sound Enhancements Turned On
    This is less likely to be problematic on systems with add-in sound cards rather than built-in audio chipsets. If you’ve turned any enhancements on in your Sound control (right click the volume icon in your notification area, select Playback Devices, then right click your default playback device, and check the Enhancements tab on its Properties window) turn them off and see what happens.
  2. Outdated audio drivers
    This is the one that did it for me, but you should check the driver version and date for whatever audio device inside the Sound, video and game controllers entry in Device Manager drives your speakers. In my case, a newer version of the Realtek High Definition Audio device had just recently become available, and updating the driver to that newest version ended my stuttering problems.
  3. Turn off ReadyBoost
    When Windows writes to or reads from a ReadyBoost device other I/O, including audio, can sometimes take a back seat. You can check this pretty quickly by visiting the ReadyBoost tab for your chosen ReadyBoost device (right-click the drive icon in Windows Explorer, then select Properties, and click the ReadyBoost tab). You can check the radio button next to “Do not use this device” then give your audio a listen to see if this makes a difference or not.
  4. Turn off UAC
    Sometimes, the interruption to the GUI that UAC imposes when the screen goes dark, the warning sound plays, and you have to examine the UAC prompt and click something to proceed further or bail out can interfere with audio, too. You can avoid this by leaving your PC alone when recording or ripping audio (when stuttering might be preserved forever afterward), or you can opt to turn off UAC beforehand. I’ve also observed that turning off UAC helps with various forms of video playback as well, probably for the same reasons.

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You don’t need to turn ReadyBoost itself off, just quit using it.

In any case I’m enough of an audiophile for my feathers to get ruffled when music playback includes sounds I know were never on the original recording, or when the PC appears to add some kind of distortion or stuttering into sound output. If you feel anything like I do, and encounter this problem, chances are good that one of these fixes will help you out.


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